The association of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and tattooing was studied in 87 tattooed and 126 tattoo free healthy young men who did not engage in intravenous drug use or multiple sexual activity. Antibody against HCV (anti-HCV) was tested in serum specimens by enzyme immunoassay with C100-3, NS3, and core antigens; 11 of the 87 (12.6%) tattooed and 3 of the 126 (2.4%) tattoo free subjects were positive for anti-HCV (odds ratio = 5.9, 95% CI = 1.6-22.0). A relationship was demonstrated by an increased risk for HCV infection with an increasing number of tattooed site (P(trend) = 0.002). All but one of the 87 tattooed subjects had been infected by hepatitis B virus (HBV) and 25 were carriers of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). None of the 25 HBsAg carriers was positive for anti-HCV whereas 11 of the 62 HBsAg non-carriers had anti-HCV, suggesting a negative association between the HBsAg carriage and the long lasting anti-HCV (P = 0.02, Fisher's exact). The status of the tattooer was also an important determinant for HCV infection; the risk was higher if tattooing was done by a non-professional friend than by a professional tattooist. Tattooing, probably with improperly sterilized needles, can clearly pose an increased risk for HCV infection in Taiwan. This study indicates the need for legal standards for hygienic tattooing as part of preventive measures for the control of parenterally transmitted infections.